A Sugar-Coated Satan Sandwich

August 3rd, 2011

This past Tuesday, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, voted in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the “debt deal”), but he wasn’t happy about it.  He described it as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”

He’s not the only one eating a big helping of nastiness; frontline workers in many organizations are gagging on their own Satan sandwiches.

Oftentimes people ask me what I do for a living.  I respond with a question, “Do you like having change shoved down your throat?”  The answer: “No!  Does anyone?”  Then I respond that I help leaders in organizations not do that.

A leader’s first instinct when faced with dissent may be to crack down on the rebellion: “In these desperate times, you’re with me, or you’re against me.  I need everyone toeing the line so we can get through this quickly.”  But when the threat of coercion diminishes, frontline engagement and commitment wane.

Some leaders hire a change management consultant because they want their stubborn employees to get in line.  “Can you get those intransigent holdouts to see reason?  Maybe if you make it look better, they’ll get on board.”

But no matter how much sugar we put on that Satan sandwich, it won’t go down easy for Rep. Cleaver, because it isn’t his sandwich.

Owned solutions are better than optimal solutions.

Leaders must engage their teams early and often, to drive higher levels of commitment.  When people get their grubby fingerprints all over a solution, they own it.  When it only has the leader’s grubby fingerprints on it, no one wants to eat it.

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9 Responses to “A Sugar-Coated Satan Sandwich”

  1. Chip – Great article. I think when leaders lose sight of all levels of intention – including their values based intention – they disengage. Too much desire for one’s own way is the demise of any leader.

  2. Terrific post Chip. I was recently asked to provide some thoughts on HR’s role in facilitating change, and some additional observations I’ve made over my career, I pasted below. Hope this helps.

    In laying out any change initiative, it is important that the dynamics of the process play through. Change is a natural process with normal stages that must occur. It is a very human experience. People don’t resist change, they resist changes when they,

    (1) fail to understand the reasons why the change must take place, and most importantly,

    (2) how do they or will they be able to help the organization to move forward as the change is taking place.

    To facilitate change, leaders must communicate effectively and express confidence in Associate capabilities. Human Resources plays a critical role in this process on several levels, architect, planning, construction, build, prove, and spread. HR leaders provide systems, methods, support structures, and most important, empathic understanding of the change dynamics. They are in effect, the compass that guides the change process through balancing the business needs in synchronization with individual/group strengths.

    The best method for navigating change is to ensure Associates understand how their strengths, individually/collectively can contribute to organization success. Serving the customers in a dynamic marketplace requires flexibility and versatility. This is the only safe harbor for long, term success.

  3. Good post Chip. Completely agree. From the leadership side, the best results to challenging and often “unpopular” change is when the subordinates involved in creating that change have ownership in designing and implementing the solutions. In the military, sometimes you have no choice but to tell the boys to “shut up and color”. Not ideal, but explaining the “why” is a luxury often not available. That’s where loyalty comes into play. You don’t earn loyalty through threats or the possibility of a writing a bad fitness report on a team member who “doesn’t get it”. You earn it through the process of your peers and subordinates seeing you slugging it out everyday just like them. When they see that you are fighting hard for the team, they don’t think to question the unpopular choices you make. They know deep down that their best interests are in the forefront of your mind in all you do. Once you have loyalty and respect on your side, the difficult change is much easier to manage as a leader.

    • MAJ Ward,your thoughts ring true to my experience. I can think of times when I willingly bit into the Satan Sandwich, because of my trust in a leader’s intent.

  4. Spot on, Chip.

    Dave Logan, co-author of, “Tribal Leadership”, recently had a discussion with his colleague, Warren Bennis. Dave said the subject of Change came up in their conversation. Warren reminded Dave …“there is no constituency for change.”

    There’s plenty of evidence to support the psychology inherent in his assertion. After all, who wants to summon the kind of courage necessary to venture into unknown territory? However, regrettably this is the only place authentic greatness lives. Organizations may be standing in it, but at least their circumstances can always be reasoned away as navigable. Known, knowns and known, unknowns are somehow safe territory. Satan’s Sandwich is likely to be served up with an insidious side of unknown, unknowns. The problem is that most organizations are using the wrong map. How can you think outside the box when you don’t know, or worse, won’t own up to what’s inside the box? Arguably, most companies and for that matter, individuals are unaware as to what truly runs them.

    Several years ago, I was introduced to the acronym, B.O.H.I.C. A. I believe this euphemism came into being as the direct result of optimal solutions taking precedent over the course of Shared Leadership. Chip, as you pointed out, engagement and accountability is nurtured in ownership. When this tact is not taken, most new systems and strong-armed, top-down initiatives are destined to be embraced like a ship sailing into unrelenting head winds. The crew may be in alignment but the rallying cry is: Bend Over… Here It Comes Again!

    • Lynn, our friend and colleague Martha Walker frequently talks with me about “entering the danger.” The crew of the U.S.S. Bohica keeps moving forward, but without passion and ownership of the ship’s course. I reckon we need passionate allies as we “enter the danger,” not browbeaten defeated automatons.

  5. Excellent commentary, Chip. This is an important topic that is too often overlooked in “the heat of battle.” We often have so many things on our plate that we disregard the necessary steps to forge buy in. The vision for an idea may come from one person, but it only takes shape with the input of many others on the team. I see this clearly with the entrepreneurs I work with as a venture capitalist. That vision becomes reality when the team believes in the vision and has the resources and skills to execute upon it. One without the other is a recipe for disenchantment.

  6. Chip- well said. Employee engagement is critical because the sense of empowerment it creates among individuals and teams. As the sense of empowerment grows, employees begin to embrace ownership vs. fear ownership. Once the fear is eliminated people tend to be more willing to be accountable and move forward.

    To me, the key is to understand that the process will likely be uncomfortable but over time, empowerment builds ownership, which builds responsibility, which creates accountability. From what I have seen, out of respect comes collaboration and people begin to break down the silos and work together- regardless of titles, roles and business units. Over time, it becomes easier to understand and accept there will be hits and misses, but we are all working together not only as a team, but as owners. We can only be as strong as our weakest link, and the more owners we have on a team, the stronger the team will be.

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